Poetry is one of the richest and most varied literary genres in China's history. From ancient times, poetry has held a place of esteem in the culture. The poetry of China can be divided into several different forms. Some of these are in practice today, while others were mainly practiced during a certain historical period.
Lu Shi is an ancient form of Chinese poetry. Its fundamental unit is the couplet, or set of two lines. There is no upper limit to the number of couplets which can be in a single poem. Each couplet must be phonetically and symbolically matched, not just rhymed in the Western sense of the word. The Chinese language relies heavily upon pitch and accent to enhance meaning, and this is important in all Chinese poetry, but particularly a simplistic form like Lu Shi.
Like Lu Shi poetry, Gu Ti builds upon the foundation of the couplet. However, there is far less rigidity in structure, rhyme and content. Modern examples of Gu Ti resemble free verse, in that there's no obvious rules governing the poetry. Poets are free to switch rhyme schemes and line lengths at any point. Gu Ti and Lu Shi are both members of a group called code verse because of their reliance on the couplet as their building block. They are also narrative forms of poetry in that they tell a story.
Ci is the name given to the pre-defined patterns which a Chinese poet fills in with characters of her choosing. The pattern specifies line lengths and rhyme schemes, but content is entirely up to the poet. Many of the patterns are enormously complicated, and new poets generally avoid the challenge. The Ci form of poetry was usually accompanied by music. Ci is a nearly extinct form, little used by modern poets.
Ge stands for song. However, Ge poetry was chanted and usually not accompanied with musical instruments, even though the rhythm is quite musical. Everything from simple folk songs to elaborate lyrics are included in the form of Ge. Like the Ci poetry, there are certain patterns and expectations for all poetry composed as Ge. However, enough freedom remains in the form that it is still popular today.
In Modern China, poetry has demonstrated the influence of the outside world. In form, poetry has largely abandoned many of the rigid structures of the dynastic periods. Free verse and experimentation are now more the exception than the rule. In content, Chinese poets have begun to explore a wider variety of topics. One of the biggest challenges in understanding Chinese poetry today is filtering out the Western cultural influences and getting at the heart of what makes Chinese poetry distinct.