Qīng Míng Jié (literally “Clear, Bright Festival”) is said to originate from Hánshí (寒食 - cold meal) Festival, which dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period in China (722 - 481 B.C.). Qing Ming falls on the 104th day after the winter solstice (or the 15th day from the Spring Equinox). This year Qing Ming falls on 4th April 2013.
The day commemorates a man called Jie Zitui, who was a loyal follower of Duke Wen during the Jin State. Unfortunately, due the turmoil of the state at
the time, Duke Wen (who was not yet a Duke at that point) was exiled and spent the next 19 years living nomadically with Jie, scraping by on nothing but the bare minimum of life’s necessities.
At one point, the Duke became so close to the point of starvation that Jie cut a piece of flesh from his thigh to make a soup for Wen. The soup ended up saving Wen’s life, and the Duke was so touched at Jie's sacrifice that he promised to reward Jie later on.
Eventually, Wen reclaimed his position on the throne and became the Duke of Jin State. He proceeded to reward all those who assisted him in reclaiming his position, however, for some reason he left out Jie. When reminded of the life-saving soup Jie made for him in dire need, the Duke became regretful and went out in search of Jie to reward him. It was at that time that the Duke had learned Jie had moved to some remote forest with his mother.
Unable to locate Jie himself, he ordered his men to set the forest on fire in attempt to force Jie out so that he could reward Jie and rid his own feelings of guilt. The fire, however, ended up doing just the opposite and burned Jie, along with his mother, alive.
Realizing the error of his ways and feeling
remorseful over the loss of Jie, Duke Wen from there on order 3 days of the year to be held without fire (Hanshi Festival) in order to commemorate Jie Zitui’s death.
Today, Hanshi Festival has been combined with Qing Ming Festival, whereby not only Jie Zitui is remembered, but all ancestors in general. It is a holiday for families to honor their ancestors at their grave sites, hence the English translation of the term “Tomb Sweeping Holiday”.