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Susho and The First Emperor


The First Emperor                                                                                                              

The origins of Susho in Suzhou begin with the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (259 BC -210 BC). Qin Shi Huang unified several warring kingdoms, creating Imperial China.  Born Ying Zheng as the crown prince of the State of Qin, he became king at thirteen, Emperor at thirty-eight and died at 49 from mercury poisoning in an ill-advised attempt at physical immortality.  The name by which history knows him, Qin Shi Huang is actually his title “Shi Huangdi” translates to “First Emperor”. 

Qin Shi Huang undertook many projects which still impact the world today, including the first version of the Great Wall of China, unifying and standardizing language, measurements and laws in China.  Qin Shi Huang and his tomb are world famous for the Terracotta Army.  Qin Shi Huang was responsible for placing the 11 original families in Suzhou, creating the Susho industry, handmade silk embroidery that is the foundation of King Silk Art.


The First Susho and the First Empero                                                                                  

Qin Shi Huang’s intent in creating the silk embroidery industry in Suzhou, was to keep himself and his court in the finest silk embroidery available.  In addition to household furnishings, the first Susho artists created elaborate robes for the Emperor’s court, called Dragon Robes. 

In Chinese culture, dragons are an extremely important symbol, represented extensively in art, poetry and literature. Symbolically, the dragon represents the emperor's role in mediating between heaven and earth. 

From the first century B. C. , hand embroidered dragons were popular symbols on the luxurious robes of the emperors and high-ranking members of his court. The emperor, his sons and specially designated high-ranking courtiers were the only people allowed to wear emblems with five-clawed dragons; it was a crime for anyone else to wear those specific dragon designs.


The style of this garment has the name Dragon Robe, but not all Dragon Robes have a dragon design.  The first Dragon Robe below was designed for an Empress. The beautiful phoenix and peonies are favored Yin symbols for royal ladies.



Dragon Robes are ankle-length, long sleeved and have a rounded opening for the neck, with a left side panel that fastens at the right. The narrower design of the sleeves was specifically for horseback riding.

Later on the style evolved to wider sleeves, as the ruling class no longer engaged in battle themselves. 

Here are some ancient dragon robes from the Emperor’s Tomb in Xi’an.



The following are not dragon robes, these are traditional costumes from the Jiuzhaigou Valley area at the southern end of the Mishan mountain range.  King’s Silk Art’s marketing department felt  strongly that our customers would find the photos of King’s Silk Art’s sales team as charming as we did.



The Great Wall and The First Emperor                                                                                        

One of Qin Shi Huang’s most famous projects is the first major version of the Great Wall of China.  The Great Wall with all it’s branches measured out, is about 5,500 miles long.  The original purpose of the wall was to protect the territory from the nomadic tribes to the north. Over the centuries the walls has been rebuilt, most of the modern wall was constructed during the Ming Dynasty.

Silk embroidery artwork of The Great Wall of China   Photo of The Great Wall of China  


Please enjoy some photos of a recent visit King Silk Art’s sales team took to The Great Wall in April, 2011.



Terracotta Army and The First Emperor                                                                                           

Qin Shi Huang’s city-sized mausoleum is one of the most awe inspiring tombs in history.  Before he unified seven feudal states and became the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang was the King of Qin.  Construction on his tomb began at his ascension to the throne at 13 years old, but escalated rapidly during the last five years of his reign. 

The tomb was constructed on Mount Li, not far from a city called Xi'an at the eastern end of the Silk Road.  At the time, Mount Li already had a network of gold and jade mines and was carefully selected as the perfect site.  It is estimated during the 30+ year project, nearly 700,000 workers helped with the construction. Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum was built as a true imperial palace, with halls, rooms and completely stocked with everything an emperor could want to rebuild his empire in the afterlife.


In addition to his palace, Qin Shi Huang wanted an army to protect himself and conquer what could be conquered. It is estimated in all there were about 8,000 warriors, 130 chariots,  nearly 700 horses, all built in terracotta, and approximately 40,000 bronze weapons.  One of Qin Shi Huang’s directives was that no two faces were to be identical, so each figure had individual hand crafting and each was hand painted, though the paint has eroded over time.

Almost as amazing is the tomb’s relatively recent discovery.  While the tomb was under construction, Qin Shi Huang decreed that 20 families move to Mount Li to guard his tomb.  In the 21st  Century, there are 20 villages in the same location, mostly farmland, with likely descendants from the original families guarding the tomb .  In 1974, a local farmer named Yang Xin was digging a well and found the first enormous pit of warriors.  There are four pits in all, about 750 feet long.



Nancy Zhang and Emily Wang with Yang Xin – April 2011

The excavation project is still not complete, the tomb of Qin Shi Huang is still untouched awaiting advances in technology to do more than preliminary testing.  But, the nearly 16 feet of accumulated dirt has been excavated from around the pits and the area is now a museum and workshop to continue the techniques first used over two millennia ago.

This work of Susho is one of seven “generals” found in the terracotta pits.  The height, clothing and headgear of this officer all indicate his high rank.  He wears double-layered robes under a colorful fish-scaled armor, and a high headgear tied with ribbons under the chin.  His shoes are with square openings and upward-bending tips.




This work of silk embroidery  is one of Qin Shi Huang’s Kneeling Archers.  Pit #2 contains 332 archers, 160 of whom are kneeling.  All of the Kneeling Archers face eastward, kneeling on the right knee, raising the left.  Originally, these archers held a crossbow.

  Here are the originals in terracotta in the museum in Xi’an.    








Please enjoy some photographs from the Terracotta Army Museum.


The museum’s workshop has artisans replicate both the ancient works and modern custom pieces.


Please enjoy some photos from King Silk Art’s trip to the Terracotta Army Museum.