The small boy could no longer recognize the sound of his mother’s voice. Bony and pale, vanishing beneath a winter coat, he spoke mostly in grunts and screams, the language of his malady. He stumbled as he walked, never certain of the ground beneath him. Wang Yifei, 5, was destined for a better life, his family thought. To ensure years of good fortune, they relied on traditions that had always guided them: making certain his mother stepped over hot coals on her wedding day and lining his crib with white cloth to fend off wayward spirits.