The Qin, a semi-barbarian people who were not Han Chinese, were able to build a powerful state which ultimately expanded to become the first Chinese empire. In spite of the apparent odds against such a state defeating all other powerful kingdoms and uniting China in 221 BCE, the Qin succeeded brilliantly. Why was this?
There were a number of reasons.
Geographically, Qin held a very favourable strategic advantage over her military adversaries. Qin was a peripheral state in the Wei Valley, surrounded by mountains and comparatively easy to defend against the peasant armies which opposed it. With the mountains giving protection from outside attack, Qin's armies were masters of the passes and could strike from a secure haven at will to wage war on their enemies. Qin also controlled the main transit route from China to Central Asia and beyond, which gave her definite economic advantages.
Qin made large profits from trade with Central Asia. Even so, Qin was held in check by the powerful state of Jin (Chin), which controlled Qin's eastern border but in 453 BCE occurred the first cause of the rise of Qin. This was the disintegration of the powerful Jin, which was partitioned into three weaker states, effectively removing Qin's chief rival and opening the way east to the centre of China's cultural centre. There were now seven major states fighting for supremacy, including Qin, Chu and Han. Qin gained military ascendancy, annexing southern states and picking off cities and towns one by one along the Yellow River. No enemy state threatened on the west, and this was vital in the success of the Qin.
From 306 to 251 BCE, Qin was ruled by Zhao Xiang (Chao Hsiang) and it was during his reign that Qin rose to become the supreme state. Described as a great warrior, Zhao Xiang ...