Director-Generals of the Grand Canal (hedao zongdu 河道總督, shortly zonghe 總河) were the highest officials concerned with the maintenance of the Grand Canal, the dykes of the Yellow River, and other large-scale projects on irrigation and hydraulic engineering. His position was equal to that of governors-general (zongdu 總督) that were responsible for the military and civilian matters of several provinces. Accordingly, Directors-General also concurrently held the (honorific) title of of Minister or Vice Minister of War (bingbu shilang 兵部侍郎) or Censor (duyushi 都御史) or Vice Censor-in-chief (fu duyushi 副都御史).
The Ming period 明 (1368-1644) administration of the Grand Canal was still quite imperfect, and there were many changes. The Directors-General were called zongli hedao 總理河道, zongdu hedao 總督河道 or zongdu jian hedao 總漕兼河道. The office was first only a temporary one, and Directors-General were appointed just in case of need. Normally, water conservation or engineering projects were carried out by the local administration. In the early 15th century, Ministers or Vice-Ministers of Work (gongbu shilang 工部侍郎) took over the duty of temporary Director-General, from the mid-century on mainly Censors-in-chief.
In 1471 the office of Vice Minister-Superintendant of the Grand Canal (zongli hedao shilang 總理河道侍郎) was created, but the duty was also taken over by Ministers acting concurrently as Censors-in-chief (shangshu jian duyushi 尚書兼都御史). In the second half of the 16th century, the Directors-General were also given military command with the title military superintendent (tidu junwu 提督軍務). In the last decades of the Ming, the two offices of Director-General of the Canal and that of grain transport were merged.
In the early Qing period 清 (1644-1911), the seat of his office was Jining 濟寧, Shandong, but in 1677 he moved to Qingjiangpu 清江浦, Jiangsu. During the Yongzheng reign-period 雍正 (1723-1735) the Grand Canal was administered in three parts. The jurisdiction of the Southern Canal (nanhe 南河) covered the provinces of Jiangsu and Anhui and concerned the Yellow River and the Grand Canal. The seat of administration was Qingjiangpu, headed by the Director-General himself. The jurisdiction of the Eastern Canal (donghe 東河), headed by a Vice Director-General (fuzong 副總) with the seat in Jining, covered Henan and Shandong and also concerned the Grand Canal and the Yellow River. The jurisdiction of the Northern Canal (beihe 北河), with the seat in Tianjin 天津 and headed by the provincial director of the Canal and of waterways (Zhili hedao shuili zongdu 直隸河道水利總督), covered the province of Zhili 直隸 (today Hebei) and concerned the Grand Canal and the Haihe River 海河 linking the sea port at Dagu 大沽 with Beijing. From the 1730s on the Northern Canal was administered by the governor-general of Zhili.
The Director-General of the Grand Canal cooperated with the Director-General of Grain Transport (caoyun zongdu 漕運總督) because the tribute grain destinated for Beijing was transported along the Grand Canal. He had at hand the personnel of three levels of administration, namely circuits (dao 道), subprefectures (ting 廳), and military posts (xun 汛), and had the prerogative to rely on the support of the civilian administration and military garrisons. Circuits were used for the management of certain parts of the Grand Canal, like the circuit for the Yongding Canal (Yongding hedao 永定河道) in Zhili, or that for the Grand Canal (Yunhe dao 運河道) in Shandong. The level of subprefecture (ting) corresponded to that of the first- or second-rank prefecures (fu 府, zhou 州) in the civilian administration, and "military posts" to the district level (xian 縣). The military personnel of the circuits consisted of vice regional commanders of the waterways command (hebiao fujiang 河標副將) and of assistant regional commanders (canjiang 參將), that of subprefectures of brigade commanders (shoubei 守備), and on the lowest level of company commanders (qianzong 千總, see ranks of the Green Standards). Each administrative unit would recruit a large number of labourers (see corvée) to carry out the necessary projects.
In 1855, when the Yellow River changed its course from south of the Shandong Peninsula to the current bed, the administration of the Southern and the Eastern Canal were shortly abandoned, and the Grand Canal in Jiangsu was managed by the local government, from 1860 on by the Director-General for Grain Transport. He could mobilize three brigades of the River (hebiao 河標) and eight military garrisons for river work. In 1902 the administration of the Eastern Canal was abolished.
After the foundation of the Republic of China in 1911, a Commission for the Yellow River and Water Ressources (huanghe shuili weiyuanhui 黃河水利委員會) was founded.