The defeat came during an appalling run of form Djokovic endured in the first half of the year followiing elbow surgery in February.
But since the loss in Paris, Djokovic has claimed Grand Slam tournaments at Wimbledon in London and the US Open in New York. The Serb has also collected the Cincinnati Masters.
Djokovic, seeded second in Shanghai, needed only 70 minutes to dispatch Cecchinato. “I was making him play always an extra shot," said Djokovic. "I was aggressive when I needed to be. The second set was perfect, really. I'm really glad to be able to finish the match the way I did.”
Djokovic will next play the seventh seed Kevin Anderson after the 32-year-old South African beat the Greek teenager Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6 6-1.
Fourth seed Alexander Zverev also advanced to the quarter-finals on Thursday. In a battle of the young guns, the 21-year-old German beat the Australian 19-year-old Alex de Minaur 6-1 6-4.
"I thought I played well from start to finish," Zverev told the Tennis TV channel. "Alex is a familiar face now and hopefully will be for tte next 15 years and maybe the world and the tour will have to get used to this match-up between us."