By David Caulfield
The 24 year-old beat his compatriot and pre-tournament favourite Ding Junhui 4-2 in a largely scrappy final where substantial breaks were at a premium.
That said, Ding did knock in a faultless 123 century break in the third to seemingly stamp his authority on the encounter at 2-1 - yet, that was to be the six-time ranking event winner's final flourish.
The first two frames had already been shared with Ding clearing to the pink to take a tight opener but then crucially missing a brown off the spot in the next to allow his opponent to draw level.
After his superb ton, Ding's strength suddenly appeared to collapse.
By this stage, he had been out playing for the guts of five hours straight having overcome India's Aditya Mehta, competing as an independent athlete, 4-2 in a three and a half hour slog.
By contrast, Cao needed only a couple of hours to dispatch of Afghan's Saleh Mohammad Mohammadi 4-1 in confident fashion and was therefore fully rested before the gold medal rubber.
From the fourth frame, as Ding's mental and physical approach began to fade, Cao simply remained consistent and punished the increasing amount of mistakes that were beginning to creep into his countryman's game.
Recently a quarter-finalist in the Wuxi Classic - his best performance in a ranking event to date - Cao compiled a succession of steady 40-plus breaks to complete the turnaround.
After levelling at 2-2 with a break of 48, a 42 in the following frame gave him the lead for the first time and it never looked like a decider was going to be likely when the man known as 'Eric' on the circuit opened with a 46 in the sixth, and what proved to be last, frame.
It rounded off a good week for the Chinese, who were always favoured to do well such is the considerable talent they possess.
Of the four snooker disciplines, three were claimed by the People's Republic with only the Women's 6-Reds eluding them.
Ding, China's no.1 for so many years now, will be disappointed to have let his lower ranked challenger come away with gold but Cao fully deserved the accolade as he continues to improve all the time.
Cao said: "I've been cueing well recently and getting confident as well. I'm not afraid of losing like before. The final was between two Chinese players so there was less pressure than the semi final."
Ding said: "Aditya Mehta has made big progress in recent years and he's a tough player. I spent a lot of energy beating him so wasn't ready for the final. Cao is energetic and accurate, he had control on the table today."
Ball by ball scoring and results from tournaments