ATS Celebrates 30 Years!

History of ATS

(and) 30 Years of The ATS Model at Work

While studying Mandarin in Taipei in 1986, Andrew Nugent-Head was hit by a speeding taxi. Realizing he had broken the metatarsals in his right foot, he had to make a choice: go to a hospital and risk pins, screws, and plates in a strange country where he did not yet speak the language or try its traditional Chinese medicine. Along with studying Mandarin, Andrew had been studying martial arts and his teacher was also a practitioner of Chinese medicine. Andrew had been watching patients of every kind be treated by the traditional doctor every day during his training. It was a choice which changed the direction of his life. Through daily treatments of herbs and acupuncture, Andrew’s bones healed in record speed, leaving Andrew reveling in the efficacy of a medicine he knew nothing about. Wanting to learn what he had experienced, Andrew chose to move to China and study the traditional medicine he had experienced first-hand.

Moving to Beijing in 1987, Andrew set out to find the very best doctors in what was once the Imperial City and center of Chinese culture. He worked his way deeply into the traditional circles of medicine, martial arts, and internal cultivation practitioners. In just a few short years, Andrew became the go-to interpreter for them and became one of the leading authorities on where to find China’s remaining authentic traditional practices. By 1994, Andrew had been featured on NBC, ABC, ZDF, Canal+, and the PBS special Healing and the Mind for his dedication to the traditional arts.

The PBS series Healing and the Mind’s episode The Mystery of Qi was a watershed moment for Andrew and the impetus to founding the Association for Traditional Studies. The program aimed to share eastern concepts of health and wellness to the western world, but China’s political reality had different plans for the show. Wanting the foreign producers to only work with officially approved experts, the ministries of health and education required approval of all content. Bill Moyers tasked Andrew with finding traditional doctors outside of the government willing to appear on film and share their traditional practices, but few were willing to discuss practices and ideologies they suffered for just decades prior in the Cultural Revolution.

The struggle of traditional Chinese medicine in the modern world begins with the fall of the last dynasty and the founding of the Republic of China in 1911. Sun Yatsen, Cheng Kaishek, and the other founding fathers of the Republic were foreign educated modernists who had converted to Christianity, eschewing China’s rich culture. They sought to stamp out everything they believed as backward and superstitious in their bid to free China from its past. This included marginalizing traditional medicine as they pushed for the establishment of western run hospitals in the cities and Christian missionary clinics in rural areas. Declaring Chinese medicine unscientific in 1928, it was excluded from government run medicine initiatives. Following a Japanese Invasion, World War II, then a civil war from which the Communists emerged victorious over the Nationalists in 1949, health and medicine was in a shambles in China. Over the next ten years, the fledgling government ran two major initiatives for Chinese medicine and then a political campaign which forever changed how it was practiced and by whom.

The first initiative was the institutionalization of Chinese medicine. Seeking to use western science to parse out what was real and what was superstition, only made sense with modern medicine became the focus of study and research. The second was the launching of the barefoot doctors. Given the lack of any infrastructure, accessibility or electricity in countryside, Chinese medicine was chosen as a band-aid for rural areas. Quickly trained ‘health experts’ were sent out with the most basic of training and became the face of acupuncture in the country and overseas. But the true devastation to traditional Chinese medicine began in 1966 with the launching of the Cultural Revolution. According to the Washington Post, between famine and pogroms, it is now believed that Mao was responsible for the death of 40-80 million people. Among the targets of his pogroms were any who were part of China’s traditional heritage, including its doctors.

Trying to recover from the devastation of Mao’s policies, the ministry of education returned to modernizing Chinese medicine as its focus after his passing in 1976. The belief was a blend of eastern medicine with western science would yield better outcomes. Yet research by other branches of the government revealed this blended medicine was clinically less effective than its traditional counterpart. This clash came to a head in 1989, when the national government stepped in to launch a campaign to save traditional medicine as an important part of China’s cultural heritage. In 1990, 500 doctors were identified whose training pre-dated any modernized Chinese medicine influence. Each old doctor was to be paired with two disciples for deep mentorship, aiming for the disciples to return traditional mindsets and techniques back to the hospitals and teaching institutions. Sadly, politics and corrupt bureaucracies derailed the effort, and the initiative never got off the ground.

By 1992, the heartbreak among the old doctors of this failure and fear of vindictive officials who opposed the initiative changed Andrew’s calling from studying Chinese medicine into a mission to save it. Drawing from his experience with the PBS series and his relationship with the old scholars, Andrew founded the Association for Traditional Studies and set out to accomplish on a small scale what the government could not at the national level. Working directly with individual practitioners, Andrew became their student, documenter, translator, and bridge for their voices and knowledge to reach the outside world. He brought groups of westerners to China to study with the practitioners and organized seminars in Europe and the United States for them to reach an international audience. ATS’ mission: let the world know the difference between modern and traditional Chinese medicine and see the difference in efficacy themselves. The mission was also to generate income for the traditional practitioners through teaching so they could focus on recording their knowledge in their final years. While ATS helped many practitioners during its China years, Andrew focused its efforts on three specific practitioners. Over almost three decades, he archived their writings, treatment notes, herbal formulas, and recorded hundreds of hours of audio and video footage. These three practitioners were:

  • The late Professor Wang Jin-Huai, a classics scholar famous for his commentaries on Daoism. Calligrapher extraordinaire whose pieces are in collections around the world, Professor Wang was also a practitioner of Chinese medicine from a family lineage. Professor Wang shaped ATS’ early preservation years until leaving China for the United States on an O-1 Visa for persons of extraordinary talent to practice his arts free of government interference.
  • The late Dr. Xie Peiqi, the last of one of China’s most storied martial art-Chinese medicine-internal cultivation lineages: Yin Style Bagua. An outspoken critic of the modernizing of traditional Chinese culture, Dr. Xie worked with ATS in its middle years to create a comprehensive video archive of Yin Style Bagua’s authentic lineage. Already in his 70s when he met Andrew, they traveled together to the United States and England to teach his art while he still could. His efforts to record and openly teach the Yin Style Bagua lineage is the foundation of ATS’ in person seminar and online education platform initiatives.
  • The late Professor Li Hongxiang, who was one of the brightest stars of the Chinese government’s attempt to save traditional medicine in 1990. Bitter with its failure, he became a reclusive practitioner, almost impossible to find and see as a patient. Over seven years, Andrew patiently worked to befriend him, convincing him to share his knowledge before he passed. Deeply impressed with Andrew’s dedication and integrity, Professor Li made an unheard-of decision: to name a foreigner his Closing Door Disciple, declaring Andrew the final student he would pass on his knowledge to. Andrew then spent an additional six years with Professor Li as his disciple in the clinic. Along with his wife and fellow practitioner JulieAnn[1], Andrew studied and discussed ancient medical texts with Professor Li in his home, filming years of teaching. Determined that authentic, clinically focused Chinese medicine would not be lost, Professor Li demanded a level of scholarship from Andrew and JulieAnn rarely seen today.

With the passing of these practitioners, Andrew and JulieAnn returned to the United States in 2014. Honoring their teachers’ wishes, they established an open style clinic outside of China dedicated to teaching Chinese medicine free of its influence. Since 2015, practitioners from all over the world[2] have been traveling to the Alternative Clinic in Asheville, North Carolina to learn Chinese medicine the way it was taught to Andrew and JulieAnn. Through generous support in 2020, ATS moved into a two-story clinic and teaching facility, providing intensive training courses for practitioners as well as health and wellness programs for the local community. To combat the use of overharvested, pesticided and often contaminated herbs in the commercial supply chain, Andrew and JulieAnn also established Appalasia Farm. Appalasia Farm grows heirloom quality medicinal herbs, acting as a teaching facility for regional farmers to learn how go from farm to pharmacy, field to finished product. With over 30 years of incredible history behind them, Andrew and JulieAnn are dedicated to taking the three pillars of the ATS mission into the next 30 years:



  • JulieAnn and Andrew teach post graduate training programs in acupuncture, herbs, and manual therapies, exposing practitioners around the globe to clinically focused Chinese medicine theory and techniques.
  • Seminars are filmed and edited into online program content for ATS’ robust online educational platform. Using online learning as well as in person teaching creates broader audience exposure and removes geographical barriers to learning Chinese medicine.



  • The clinic works to influence public opinion about alternative medicine by providing effective Chinese medicine treatments across a wide patient base. The clinic provides over 5,000 treatments each year to local, regional, national, and international patients who come to Asheville to seek care at the clinic.
  • The clinic offers advanced mentorship and real life clinical training opportunities for practitioners of Chinese medicine around the world. By training at the Alternative Clinic, practitioners take a higher level of medicine back to their cities and countries, influencing their patient bases and colleagues with the knowledge they learned at the clinic.



  • Using its own farm as a model, ATS is encouraging small scale farmers to grow medicinal herbs. The overharvesting and depletion of plants by large scale agribusiness throughout Asia means more and more herbal medicines are hard to source and are of suspect quality. The farm’s work includes the preservation of heirloom quality herbs which are vastly superior in efficacy as well as using indigenous medicinal plants already adapted to growing locally.
  • Leveraging its experience from farm to pharmacy to formula, ATS uses its vertical knowledge to help farmers grow, harvest, process and then access the Chinese medicine market domestically. There is a increasing desire to use locally grown, organic herbs, but there is little training for western farmers on how to grow and process herbs to Chinese medicine specifications, nor training for practitioners on how to use domestically grown and native medicinal plants in their clinics. ATS must fill this void quickly as the herbal supply chain from China is already being restricted due to internal demand, import restrictions and concerns of contamination.



As ATS heads into its next 30 years, growing these three pillars beyond the single efforts of Andrew and JulieAnn into an infrastructure that continues past them is ATS’ most important mission. Recreating the in-depth mentorship the Nugent-Heads experienced in China is the focus of the next phase of ATS.

The last 30 years have spread seeds of traditionally practiced Chinese medicine globally, with the digital material that will last long after the Nugent-Heads. However, to cement the legacy of the traditional practitioners, ensure authentic Chinese medicine is passed on to another generation, and that quality medicinal herbs remain available is the capstone of this great project.

[1] JulieAnn Nugent-Head met Andrew while studying Chinese medicine. After a master’s degree in Chinese medicine and hospital internships run by ATS in Beijing in 2004 and 2005, JulieAnn moved to China full time in 2006. Joining ATS, she became a second student of the old doctors. During her eight years in China, she studied with them in their clinics, helped record their knowledge, and earned a doctorate at the Zhejiang University of Chinese Medicine before returning to the United States in 2014.

[2] Aside from US and Canada based practitioners, the Alternative Clinic has trained practitioners from England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Luxemburg, Holland, Israel, Australia, and China.