When villages in China began to introduce local elections in the 1980s it was, for many, a moment of great optimism about the prospects for local democracy in the Peoples' Republic. Yet village self-government has not curbed the power of local officials in China to confiscate the wealth from the rural poor. Following the introduction of village elections, over 60 million villagers have had their land seized by their local governments. These land seizures amount to a redistribution of trillions of dollars of wealth from smallholders to the government. In this talk, I argue that local self-government in China is a strikingly effective tool for top-down authoritarian control. I focus on the consequences of including communal elites, like the leaders of lineages or religious groups, in village institutions of self-government. The view that local democracy nurtures accountability would suggest that the inclusion of communal elites in village government would strengthen villagers' land rights. After all, these communal elites face strong social expectations that they cooperate with their group and enact policies that benefit them. Drawing on case studies and a new dataset, I show that when communal elites join local institutions of self-government, the state is instead able to expropriate more land than when these elites remain outside of government. I argue that these communal elites are important intermediaries that help China's authoritarian state control and extract from their groups.